Noel Conway granted permission to appeal in assisted dying case



Case will now proceed to the Court of Appeal

Noel Conway, a 68-year-old man with terminal motor neurone disease who brought a judicial review challenging the current law on assisted dying, has today (Thursday 18th January 2018) been granted permission to appeal an earlier decision rejecting his case. The judgment was handed down following an oral hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday 18th January 2018. The Noel Conway v Secretary of State for Justice case, which is supported by Dignity in Dying, was rejected by the High Court in October 2017 following a hearing in July but will now proceed to the Court of Appeal.

The High Court judgment on the case confirmed that the courts do have the authority to make a declaration of incompatibility between the 1961 Suicide Act (which criminalised assisting someone to die) and human rights legislation – a significant victory in developing the law in this area.

Noel Conway, a retired college lecturer from Shropshire, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease (MND), in November 2014. His condition is incurable and terminal. Noel sought to challenge the current law which bans assisted dying because he feels that he is prevented from exercising his right to choice and control over his death. He fears that without a change in the law he may be forced to suffer against his wishes. Noel, supported by Dignity in Dying, instructed law firm Irwin Mitchell to bring this case to fight for his right to have the option of an assisted death when he is in his final six months of life.

Noel said:

“I am pleased that my case will now proceed to the Court of Appeal. I brought this case not only for myself but on behalf of all terminally ill people who believe they should have the right to die on their own terms. Our voices deserve to be heard.

“I have accepted that my illness will rob me of my life, but how it ends should be up to me. Why should I have to endure unbearable suffering and the possibility of a traumatic, drawn out death when there is an alternative that has been proven to work elsewhere? To have the choice of an assisted death in my final months would allow me to enjoy the rest of my life in peace, without fear and worry hanging over me.

“Throughout this case, my family and I have been touched by the outpouring of support and well wishes from the public, others living with terminal illness and those who have witnessed the traumatic deaths of loved ones. To me, this proves beyond doubt that this is an issue close to the hearts of thousands of people across the country. I now look forward to the next stage in my case, knowing I have the strength of public opinion behind me.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive at Dignity in Dying, said:

“We welcome today’s decision and are delighted that Noel’s case will now proceed to the Court of Appeal.

“As well as demonstrating the public’s appetite for a change in the law, Noel’s case has confirmed that the courts do have the authority to declare the law incompatible with human rights legislation. This is a significant step forward.

“Upholding the current ban on assisted dying denies dying people like Noel a real say over how and when they will die and ignores the clear failings in the current law. Noel may no longer have the strength to go to Switzerland for an assisted death and in any case, he should not have to put his family at risk of prosecution by helping him get there. Currently his only option is to refuse use of the ventilator he relies on to breathe for 22 hours a day, and suffocate to death. How can this be more ethical or safe, with no formal safeguards, than for Noel to request life-ending medication within the multiple safeguards proposed through his case?

“When over half of Brits would consider travelling abroad for an assisted death if terminally ill, and two-thirds would consider breaking the law to help a loved one do so, it is clear that the current system simply does not work . Outsourcing death to organisations like Dignitas in Switzerland shifts the cost and responsibility onto terminally ill people and their families when they are at their most vulnerable. This is not the kind, compassionate response that a civilised nation should show its dying citizens.

“The change to the law proposed through Noel’s case is not a step into the unknown. It is based on legislation which has been proven to work safely and effectively in Oregon, USA for 20 years. Nearly 65 million people around the world are now covered by similar laws.

“We now look forward to Noel’s case progressing to the next stage and receiving the full consideration it deserves.”

Noel’s solicitor Yogi Amin, partner and head of public law and human rights at Irwin Mitchell, added:

“Noel will now get to present his case in the Court of Appeal. The evidence is significant and Noel believes that more scrutiny needs to be given to decide whether the current blanket ban is fair. The High Court confirmed in its Judgment that the courts do have the authority to make a declaration of incompatibility between the 1961 Suicide Act and human rights legislation.

“Noel would like the choice to be able to die with dignity. He has proposed a new legal framework with safeguards in place of the current blanket ban on assisted dying. The world has changed phenomenally in the past few decades with many medical advances but the law on assisted dying for those who are terminally ill hasn’t changed for more than 50 years.”

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